My Homeless Mentor
-By Stephen Zhang
On a scorching hot Sunday afternoon, my brother Michael and I were distributing fliers for the Youth Creates Gala for a Cure fundraising event to support cancer research outside a local Walmart in Englewood. I approached a man trudging in my direction. He was shabbily dressed, relatively short, and seemingly uninterested in his surroundings. I had only mentioned “fundraising” before he exclaimed, “Man, I’m homeless but I would help if I could.” I quickly shook off his cold rejection and moved on.
We were unfamiliar with the community and therefore were cautious and reserved when making our solicitations. The homeless man settled on a bench near us and intensely observed our activities. After a few minutes of observing, he seemed to be in high spirits and beckoned us over. “Look, kids, don’t be afraid”. He then vividly explained to us how we should more effectively engage people. He exemplified this by attracting a small crowd using a vivacious and friendly voice and exaggerated arm gestures. We felt energized and equipped and made significant progress afterward.
What struck me was that being a homeless man, he cared to take the time and energy to coach us. It was especially heartwarming and I absorbed every word of his advice. This encounter opened my eyes. I was unaware that homeless people held so much potential and were so capable due to the common misperception of them. However, my view quickly changed after I met him. He was kind, compassionate, articulate, and perceptive. When we asked what we could do to help him, his voice was choked with emotion, “Just a hug”, and swiftly walked away. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to ask him his name. As the founder of Youth Creates, an organization dedicated to serving the community and to connecting corporate and community resources to youth talents, I feel that he would make a great mentor for youth. His stories must be touching. His perspective must be unique. His lessons must be awakening. My brief encounter with him has been a blessing to me. I hope this message would find him well, reinstill the pride in him, and inspire him to get back on his feet again.